Over a dinner of stir-fry, my seven-year-old, Elijah, attempted to distract us from the broccoli he had been picking at but not actually putting in his mouth, by starting a little small talk. “So-o-o,” he began “what do guys think you’ll be doing in the year 2015?”Troy and I exchanged the glance we pull out when one of our kids exhibit a personality trait equally foreign to both of us. Although I am wise to Elijah’s avoidance techniques, I have to admit this conversation starter did give me pause for thought. “What do you mean?” I inquired.
“What are your goals or resolutions?” Elijah explained, with a little hint of “duh!” in his answer.
Troy shared visions of his children doing well in school, preparing for college so they could earn a decent living and care for us when we get old.
“What are some of your goals, Elijah?” I asked, unable to come up with any future plans of my own, beyond loading the dishwasher.
“Well,” he said, “Since I am not a fan of hypodermic needles, I would like to invent a vaccine you could put in apples.”
“That is a really great idea.” Troy and I agreed.
“I would also like to invent things from garbage. Like a shirt made completely out of Coke cans.”
“Wow,” I cringed. “That would sure be something.”
Elijah had clearly been thinking all this through for a while. His eyes lit up with the possibility of changing our world for the better, one invention at a time. Eight years from now, if all goes according to plan, you may be able to purchase your own 3-D comic book, or ward off polio with an immunized banana. And I wouldn’t be surprised to find aluminum tank tops, jackets, or even pants on the wish list of every cool, environmentally conscious teenager in America.
It is so refreshing to witness true optimism in action. On her kindergarten “All About Me” poster, Priscilla said that when she grew up, she would be a singer, a dancer, and an animal doctor; all this on top of being a mommy to six lovely children, of course. Benjamin would like to be a “sing-a-long prince” (your guess is as good as mine). The best though was my brother, Bobby, who at the age of 8 was absolutely fixated on becoming a superhero. He would design elaborate web shooters and costumes, including a mask with special lenses for brave young men, like himself, who happened to be nearsighted. The next year he directed a neighborhood performance of The Hatfields and the McCoys (we had just been to Sea World and had watched this classic family feud performed on water skis). Our version starred Bobby, me, and a couple of kids from across the street. We made posters and everything, but by the time the scheduled show rolled around we had forgotten about it completely. Bobby nearly hyper-ventilated with panic when he realized he had neglected to take down the posters, sure that half of Ohio would be crowded outside our front door demanding the advertised play they were promised.
Very few memories of my own come to mind regarding pie-in-the-sky notions of greatness because in general, I have always been a moderate achiever. There was that week in 1984, after Mary-Lou Retton had won the gold medal in the Olympics, that I toyed with the idea of taking gymnastics. But since I was already ten-years-old, ancient by a gymnast’s standard, the odds were against my success. In eighth grade, my mom bought me a sweater for getting a C in pre-Algebra. After the scores were calculated from the ACT test I took my junior year, I started getting calls every week from army recruitment officers. In community plays I was always in the chorus, moving stage props between scenes as a side gig. I have felt quite content my whole life with being a good friend to ambitious people, riding along on their waves of passionate conviction.
Maybe it was this document I found in a folder entitled “Elijah” in Microsoft Word that set it off:
By Elijah J. Sabourin
“What is this?” I asked him.
“Oh, that’s the cover page of my biography.”
Here was my son, capitalizing on his nearly eight years of living experience, setting out to create the next “Best Seller”. Having no concept or fear of failure, he is certain that anything he sets his mind to can indeed be accomplished. Looking over my shoulder a couple of weeks ago while I was typing in Word, myself, Elijah asked, “So, when are you going to put the stuff you write in real pages, like in a book?” Defending myself, I started to explain book proposals, public interest, and profitability factors, but his look of boredom conveyed a child like unfamiliarity with stumbling blocks and hindrances. Maybe it was my children with their wide open view of life; maybe it was my husband who recently took on a bigger bite than he could chew, career wise, but has risen to the challenge and broadened his experience because of it; maybe it was the confidence I acquired by successfully getting four newborns through babyhood without permanent damage to anyone of us; whatever the reason, I have recently had my own surges of ambition and the experience has been disorienting, to say the least.
There are some things I’d like to try, some daunting projects that would take up my time but would never pay the bills, clean the house, or get the clothes ironed. When the surges come knocking, my first inclination is usually to push them away “How foolish!” “How impractical!” I say. But even with my hands holding them down, the fluidity of my desire bubbles up through the cracks between my fingers. “Could it possibly be,” I wonder, “that the desire is not originating from my own underachieving mindset? Are these dreams a gift, requiring humble obedience to fulfill?” I fear the dreams because I fear the failure. When I dwell on the possible outcomes, I am paralyzed from taking a single step forward. When I prayerfully sit and create, however, ignoring the stumbling blocks and hindrances, in faith, the process itself brings peace to this harried mother who discovers hope and beauty in going outside the call of duty.
I get a thrill from finding ornately colored pictures scattered on top of the dining room table or from changing the sheets on the bunk beds and uncovering the chapter books hidden underneath Elijah’s pillow, imagination brewing on its own. “This must be good,” I figure, “because God gave us pineapple, peacocks, and pussy willows, when He could have stuck with manna, grass, and cows and we would have never known the difference. How do I begin to inspire my children to dream for the sake of punctuating the days, developing heavenly-minded spirits, and shedding light where it is dark and gloomy? Well…I suppose I can start by pouring a gigantic cup of coffee, scooting the clutter out of my way, and typing one word first, and then another. I can have dreams myself, and be joyful because of it.
Below, for those family members incapable of being annoyed by shameless displays of pride, is an essay Elijah just wrote for school called “Mary”.
You should see my baby sister! She loves my grandmother. But when she leaves, my little Mary cries and cries. One time, my dad was done changing her diaper, he gave it to her and asked if she would throw it a way. Mary smiled, grabbed it, and started walking to my room. When she got there she threw it on the floor. Dad picked it up and gave it back to her. “Not here,” my dad said. She grabbed it back. This time she headed to the bathroom and she threw it in the …you don’t want to hear this. You do? Fine. She threw it in the toilet! Dad had to get it out and put it in the trash. When I sit on her chair she screams loud. She’s also really, really, really cute when she claps! I’ll love her forever and ever like a loyal dog.